Minimum alcohol pricing is showing early signs of success that, if they continue, should improve public health and cut crime, particularly public and domestic violence, writes Tom Wood.
A little piece of good news was almost buried in the interminable political chaos last week – that the minimum alcohol pricing policy is starting to show results.
Let’s not get carried away, it’s early days and the data is raw, we still drink more than our neighbours in the UK and the decrease – the equivalent of half a pint of beer per person – is modest to say the least.
But it’s a start and perhaps at last we are turning the corner to balance our relationship with booze. In fairness, there have been positive signs for a while – most encouraging of all our is that young people are drinking less.
So why is this small reduction in consumption important? Well, if the trend continues, the ramifications will be immense. Overall, our health will be improved, our poor mortality rates will hopefully improve and, at a time when recorded crime is rising, we will eventually see a decrease in both public and domestic violence.
That’s the role alcohol has played in our society and the reason why it had to be tackled.
But signs that minimum pricing is working are important for another reason; it’s proof that evidence-based policy works.
A statement of the bleeding obvious, you may say but think about it. For years we have known the strength of the World Health Organisation’s research on alcohol consumption. Simply put, to reduce alcohol consumption in a population, you should control supply, increase price and provide high-quality preventative education especially for young people.
Took on powerful vested interest
Straightforward really, so why has it taken the Scottish Government so many years of struggle to become the first government to introduce minimum pricing?
Well, one reason is the trenchant opposition of a powerful vested interest – the drinks industry. No one could accuse the Scotch Whisky Association of giving up easily. Tt took the Supreme Court to finally resolve the matter. Was all the expensive legal wrangling worth it? Yes, certainly.
And in a time when it’s de rigueur to criticise all governments, let’s give credit where it’s due for perseverance. It would have been easy for the Scottish Government to back off such a rich and influential body as the drinks industry but they didn’t – they fought it through and they won.
And there’s another thing – the success of minimum pricing is a blow to the cynicism so prevelant today. I heard it a lot when discussing minimum pricing, there was a kind of perverted exceptionalism. “Yes, well the World Health Organisations research may be compelling, but it won’t work in Scotland,” was the sort of thing some people said.
It’s a kind of fatalism we hear to much about alcohol, drugs, sectarianism and more. “Here’s tae us, whas like us – damn few ... we are different – policies that work elsewhere won’t work here.”
Nonsense, of course, and the more we can dispel these myths the better.
So congratulations to our Government and let’s hope minimum alcohol pricing goes on to the same success as that other once-maligned policy – the public smoking ban.
And let’s hope that as we go forward we have the confidence to park the fatalism and follow the evidence as we form our social policy.
We may all be ‘Jock Tamsons Bairns’ but we can still learn from others.
Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable